Diet and Strength
Your diet and general lifestyle has a huge impact on the effectiveness of your strength training programme.
Some lifting specialists would say that what you eat and drink and how you treat your body matters more than what you lift when it comes to developing your physique.
What food you eat, how often you eat, when you eat and how much water you drink are all things can all seriously affect the gains you can expect from weightlifting.
Develop a good approach to diet and you will enjoy the full rewards of your strength training programme.
Frequency of meals
When strength training it is important to eat plenty of meals throughout the day. Your muscles needs a constant supply of energy to refuel, repair and grow. Eating often also also helps to keep your metabolism up.
This high metabolism is best achieved by eating regular, small meals consisting of good food, which gives you all your nutrients. Eating about six times a day is ideal.
Try not to leave more than four hours between meals, ideally only two or three.
Eating before bed
Remember to eat a little before bed as, when asleep for more than four hours or so, your body is effectively in starvation mode. This can be bad news for muscle growth as you have no adequate fuel supply.
This is why it is best to eat a small, high protein snack a short while before bed. For example, egg whites, lean meat or fish.
A diet for strength training needs to take the body’s special overnight needs into account. A small amount of carbs is OK as long as it is not right before bed.
If you do eat some carbs, it is a good idea to allow enough time for your insulin levels to drop again before sleeping.
Drinking enough water
In order to give your body what it needs to grow stronger, drink water and lots of it. Aim to consume up to a gallon a day, spaced out over the day. Water is a large part of a good diet for strength training.
Remember to keep hydrated when training, but be careful not to drink too much during a workout because you run the risk of diluting important electrolytes and causing stomach cramps.
Refueling after a workout
After exercise it is important to refuel your body. You should eat some carbohydrates straight after working out intensely so that your body can get to work immediately on replacing lost sugars and repairing muscle.
Your salt levels will be unbalanced due to sweating away important electrolytes, unless you replaced these with an energy bar or sports drink.
If you are exercising for over an hour then it is recommended to drink a sports drink during your workout.
If you are working out for less than an hour, sports drinks are normally unnecessary.
For quick energy replacement after a resistance training session, a banana works just great. You probably don’t want anything too heavy straight after a workout but this fast energy solution is a perfect balance of carbs and vitamins.
Some fruit juice is a good idea too as an immediate recovery solution, So keep fruit and fruit juice handy to include in your diet for strength training.
Whatever you do, make sure you get something into your stomach within 20 minutes of your strength workout so as to aid muscle recovery and encourage gains.
Never wait longer than an hour to eat something more substantial after an intense strength training session, including proteins and carbs.
Of course it goes without saying you need to replace the lost fluids as soon as possible. Refueling is also crucial after a cardio workout, during which you will usually lose more water.
Strength and metabolism
The right diet for strength training keeps your muscles full of energy. A good diet with well spaced meals also increases the metabolism and helps burn more calories. This helps to keep the fat off your body and helps your muscle definition to show through.
It is important that you get all the nutrients you need in order to be strong and healthy when thinking about diet for strength training.
This is especially important when weightlifting regularly as your body’s requirements will increase as your muscles demand more and better quality fuel.
Food can be split roughly into three kinds. Your body needs all of these food types, especially in a diet for strength training:
The 3 macronutrients
Carbohydrates are vital for maintaining muscle mass and giving energy. Carbs are either simple or complex forms. Simple carbs are sugars, which are quickly turned into energy by the body and quickly used up.
Complex carbs are released much more slowly, giving a gradual release of energy. Complex carbs are the best for your body, providing a steady flow of energy for your muscles, keeping your metabolism high and burning fat. Good sources of complex carbs are wholemeal grains.
Simple carbs: white bread, sweets, sugar, white refined grain.
Complex carbs: wholemeal bread and pasta, vegetables (especially eaten raw).
Simply eating fat will not make you fat. Getting enough fat in your diet is important for proper hormone production. Eating fat increases testosterone production, which helps to build muscle mass.
Fat is also a good source of fuel. But it is important to eat good fats, such as extra virgin olive oil and nuts, rather than bad fats which are saturated fats such as found in red meat and chocolate. Diary fat should be eaten with caution, such as cheese, full fat milk and cream.
Good fats: Nuts, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, oily fish.
Bad fats: Meat fat, dairy fat.
Protein is necessary to help muscles grow and repair. Protein also helps to speed up metabolism. The energy high gained from carbs is stabilised by proteins, reducing any fat storage from unused carb-induced energy.
Protein is also difficult for the body to digest, so it takes more energy for the body to actually process protein rich foods. This increases your metabolism, burns more calories and helps your muscle definition to show through.
A diet for strength training should have plenty of high quality protein.
Protein and muscle growth
The importance of a good diet for strength training can’t be underestimated. The food you eat gives your muscles the fuel to work and grow – and protein is particularly important.
When strength training, your body requires plenty of high protein foods. Protein is what your muscles use to grow and repair and if you don’t have enough of it they simply can’t develop.
Many lifters use protein powders to boost their protein intake, but this isn’t normally necessary if you have a good diet.
Good sources of high protein food:
Lean meat, preferably organic. To keep meat lean, cut off visible fat before serving and choose healthy cooking methods such as grilling rather then frying.
Fish, especially oily fish which has plenty of amino acids.
Eggs, especially the whites.
Nuts and beans, especially almonds and quinoa (a complete protein).
Quinoa – a natural wholegrain, providing all of your essential amino acids. Quinoa is excellent for strength training as it is classed as a complete protein.
What foods do you like to eat to replenish your energy reserves straight after a workout?
Do you have any other healthy, high-protein foods to add to the list?
Share your thoughts on diet and weight training in the comments.